The Quest For Six: The Phillies are still favorites this season, but the competition is steeper than ever

Phillies 41-year-old 1B Jim Thome talks hitting with catcher Carlos Ruiz. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

I don’t have a lot in common with the Philadelphia Phillies. I can’t throw a 90 MPH fastball. I can’t hit a homerun. I can’t even hit the ball.But for all our differences, there is one thing the Phillies and I have in common – we’re both going to die.

Gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, right?

But it’s true. I’m getting older, and one day I’ll kick the bucket.

The Phillies are getting older too. The average age of the expected everyday lineup is 31.9 years. That’s 223.3 in dog years. And that’s including Ryan Howard, who isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. Instead, plug in Jim Thome and his 41 years. Somebody call the AARP.

But age isn’t the problem; it’s just part of the problem. You can still be old and be good. When the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, their average age was 31.3.

The Phillies could win the World Series this year just as easily as anyone else. But the team’s age does show us something: the window is closing. Maybe it won’t slam shut this year or next year, but don’t be fooled, it’s going to happen soon. Just look at the trend.

After winning the NL East in 2007 and winning the World Series in 2008, it’s been a steady decline. 2009: World Series loss. 2010: NLCS loss. 2011: NLDS loss. You know what comes next if that trend continues, right? At this rate, the Phillies shouldn’t even win the NL East this year. The writing is on the wall. We’re doomed.

Sort of. You see in order for something like that to happen, someone has to take it from the Phillies. The Phillies don’t give away division titles. That’s the Mets’ job. But who is going to take it away from the Phillies, if anyone at all?

Being number one for five straight years obviously has its benefits. You’re the head honcho, the king of the crop. You get to drink champagne and go to the playoffs, and you get to brag about it too.

But it also has its draw backs. The Phillies have been out in front for a while, and when you’re out in front for so long, the competition behind you does its best to catch up.

Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins lunges for a throw during practice last week. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Braves have been building quite the pitching staff. While Derek Lowe is gone this year, the rotation of Hudson, Jurrjens, Beachy and Minor will certainly be giving batters nightmares.

The Nationals have been trying to get better, which is cute. I guess they figure if they keep picking out enough trash from the Phillies’ dumpster, they will turn into a smelly version of the Phillies. Have fun with Jayson Werth and Brad Lidge, Nats. In fact, you’re more than welcome to dumpster dive out back whenever you please.

The Mets, by cutting their entire roster, have actually gotten better too. Nice job guys.

But then there’s the Miami Marlins. Not to be confused with the Florida Marlins, this team has increased their payroll from $57 million last year to over $100 million this year.

They’ve added Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. They still have Josh Johnson, possibly the most underrated pitcher in baseball. With a new team and a new stadium (which should be able to fit the Marlins’ average attendance of 57, they hope) the Marlins have officially made themselves NL East contenders for the next 4-6 years.

This is what happens when one team dominates a division for half a decade – it wakes everyone else up. The Phillies have had their time in the sun, and that’s all well and good, but don’t be mistaken: everyone else is catching up. Even though the Marlins’ off-season moves don’t necessarily put them over the top this year (just ask that other team from Miami or that other team in Philadelphia), it does mean that their team is getting better while ours is getting worse.

Ruben Amaro Jr. handicapped the future to win another championship. This is fine; he chose to win today over tomorrow. However, this means the Phillies have to win now if they’re going to win at all.

The pendulum took a long time to swing the Phillies’ way, and I’m glad it’s still with us, but it’s slowing starting to swing the other way.

You can just feel it.

The once young core is getting older. The deep playoff runs are getting shorter. The competition is getting better.

It’s now or never for the Phillies in 2012, especially if the Mayans are right about that whole end of the world thing.

Christian Hetrick is a 19-year-old sophomore at Rowan University. He is the assistent sports editor for their student publication as well as the baby of TTB. His future is bright. Follow him on Twitter (@_hetrick)


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